Enjoy the new chapter!
Chapter 3: The Gentleman Filling the Coffin
I think I'll talk about Father.
Father is a gentleman.
He's always dramatic, and he makes people angry a lot of time because he ruins the mood or makes mistakes. But I still call him a gentleman.
Father always bluffs his way through things. He's no good at fighting. That's why he uses underhanded tactics sometimes, though he'll always call it 'strategy'.
I guess in that sense he's not a gentleman at all.
But that doesn't matter.
There's one thing about Father that makes me truly respect him as a gentleman.
You see, Father will always make things work somehow, whenever and wherever.
No matter what kind of a situation he's in, even when most people would give up, as long as it's not something impossible like raising the dead, he'll make things work.
That's right. I can't really put it into words, but I respect him.
I respect him.
I may have power, but I can never solve anything myself.
I don't want to have power.
I just want to be able to do something about everything that happens in front of me.
The house was quiet, as though nothing had ever happened. Relic and Hilda were leaning on each other's shoulders.
"Say, Hilda. Sorry about before."
"I drank a bit of your blood."
"I don't really mind."
There was a moment of silence before Relic awkwardly spoke up again.
"Say, Hilda. Sorry about before."
"When you were yelling at that guy, I first thought what you said wouldn't help me. I didn't believe in you. I'm sorry."
"I wouldn't even have known that if you hadn't said anything, you know…"
There was another moment of silence.
"Hilda! I-I'm sorry!"
"I forgot about your parents!"
It seemed that even Hilda had needed a reminder. She quickly got to her feet in the hallway.
"Oh no! Dad! Mom!"
As Hilda burst into tears, Relic truly understood his powerlessness.
"L-let's head to the castle first. They're all vampires, so I'm sure Father can do something!"
He felt foolish for having to turn to his father in the end.
"Y-yeah… I'm sure he could do something…"
And he was indescribably miserable because even Hilda was relying on his father.
Waldstein Castle, parlour.
It was just about midnight. The viscount formed sentences in the air in an unnecessarily dramatic font.
[My word, to think you would be so swept away by power that you would lose sight of your duty…]
"…You don't need to put it that gravely." Relic said as he sipped his tea, his eyes on the floor and embarrassment clear on his face.
He felt incredibly weary. It was only natural, seeing as he had sucked very little blood from Hilda while having expended so much power.
[I am ashamed, Relic! It is most fortunate that I was present to save Miss Hilda's parents. What would you have done if we had been left without a single lead?]
In the end, Hilda's parents were hiding in the castle.
From the sounds of things, a friend of the Magic Man had imposed control over Hilda's parents after Hilda and Mihail left their house. Hilda had been so rattled by the fact that her parents had hired exterminators to kill the viscount that she refused to speak to them.
"But I honestly have no idea what's going on. What happened here?"
[Ah, as long as Watt himself remains unaccounted for, we cannot understand the reasons behind this incident.]
"And also… uh, never mind."
[They say that a true gentleman must make his intentions clear, my son. Take these words to heart.]
Relic could no longer escape. Making sure that Ferret was not in the room, Relic asked his father for a word of confirmation.
"Father, did you know that I was created artificially?"
[But of course!]
The viscount's incredibly confident answer left Relic in confusion.
[Ah, I understand what you are trying to say. First: I never told you because you never asked. I saw no need to disclose the truth behind a matter in which you expressed no interest. Second: Although you may wish to ask if your heart is real, I will say to you that even a thoroughbred horse has the freedom to walk of its own will. And thirdly: I presume you will want to ask if an amalgamation of power like you has the right to live a normal life. But would you also say that a bull terrier has no right to live?]
Relic's questions were answered before he could even ask them.
Relic collapsed into his seat and waved his hand lightly. Father and son had been reunited after a year, and he had many things he wanted to say--but right now, he wasn't in the mood. He was itching to talk to Hilda.
[Is that all? Even I am aware of the many gaps in my answer. It would be enjoyable in itself to point them out together and slowly come to a mutual understanding.]
Deciding to ignore the work before him which might keep them all up through the night, Relic again explained the details of the incident.
Ferret and Mihail had just come inside, and Hilda was talking to her parents in the next room over. Relic wondered if her silent treatment of them had come to an end by now.
"So what about Watt Stalf?"
Even Relic had heard of Watt before. In fact, most people on Growerth knew his name, because he was the mayor of Rukram. There was word going around about his surprisingly youthful looks for a man in his thirties, but this was the first time Relic had heard that the man was a dhampyr.
[That is the problem. Even though things have come to this, I still have no idea what this man intends. What good would come out of releasing me from my prison, when he was the one who sealed me away in the first place? Now, if my release has meaning of some sort, from his personality, I can only assume that this was all an act of boasting on his part.]
"What are you talking about?"
[Watt Stalf is a petty man. A man who will stop at nothing to reach the top. The sort to go out of his way to humiliate a defeated man and revel in the man's resentful anger. I have known Watt for quite some time now, you see. I first saw him in a back alley, gloating over the collapsed form of a dying drug addict, having robbed him of his money.]
Relic wondered how a man like him had ever become a mayor.
But all too suddenly, a gunshot rang out through the castle.
"?! That was from the ballroom!"
The viscount lithely slid down the floor and appeared at the top of the ballroom staircase.
It was an open area, with the stairs located at the central corner. Normally there would have been a great chandelier hanging from the ceiling, but it had been shattered by the custom-made explosive stakes fired by the extermination team that the jester had been controlling. Its remains lay in the middle of the room--the rest of the ballroom also showed signs of having been damaged by explosions.
Because there were multiple lights installed in the hall, the room was still illuminated. But the eerie air in the room left the atmosphere cold and tense.
Hilda's parents were sitting in a corner, screaming. Their eyes were locked on a scene right out of a cheap police drama.
A man wearing sunglasses stood before the fallen chandelier, spinning a smoking pistol.
"Mayday, mayday. Now, Count! It's time for Part Two."
He wore a pair of jeans and a leather jacket. Watt Stalf, the mayor of Rukram who wore a different face entirely during the day, was twirling a gun in a flashy show of dexterity.
The viscount's family and Mihail were the only ones who had come down from the parlour. And not a single one of them was distracted by the gun itself.
And once Watt confirmed that their attention was focused on the Hilda's face, at which the gun was aimed, he announced the opening of the show.
He spoke in a tone entirely different from that of a petty criminal. Not only that, plastered on his face was a refreshing smile that he might wear for a school visit on an election campaign.
"Just like I promised. I'm here to crawl up to the top."
[…I had always known that you were a petty man, but have you fallen so far so as to lose your mind?] The pool of blood wrote out in astonishment, sliding down the staircase. [I cannot say I have any idea what you are attempting to do. And allow me to remind you that I am a viscount.]
"Really? Quit your complaining. I thought it was pretty damned easy to see, Count. Here I have a gun and a hostage. How much more simple could you get?"
Twirling the gun again, Watt glanced around the ballroom. Noticing the small steps at the very front of the room, on the opposite side of the ballroom from the larger staircase, he lightly walked towards it. Taking the gun away from his hostage's head, he pulled Hilda along as though escorting a dance partner.
Hilda, naturally, resisted. But perhaps Watt had been using her elbow as a fulcrum--his incredible strength did not allow her to put up much of a struggle.
Lightly taking a seat on one of the lower steps, he shot a glance over at those at the staircase on the other side of the room, and the letters of blood floating before the chandelier. He kept a tight hold on Hilda's wrist.
"Count. I'm here to have a nice long talk with you."
[I understand wholeheartedly. But first, I ask that you release the young lady. I shall gladly offer myself as a hostage!]
"You're still one hell of an idiot. How the fuck am I supposed to hold a glob of blood hostage? And what good is a hostage that can't even die?"
[You misunderstand greatly, Watt. I guarantee you that, were I to be stuffed into a rocketship and launched into the sun, I would be killed. Immortality is not so easily found! So, might I ask that you release the young lady? If you do so, I may still accept you as a guest to my castle.]
The mismatched pair continued their conversation. The humans and vampires around them looked incredulous, and even Relic, whose girlfriend had been taken hostage, was mesmerized by the sight.
"A guest, huh? Right. That's pretty decent."
As soon as he finished his sentence, Watt released his iron grip on Hilda's wrist.
Hilda hurriedly fled, rushing to Relic at the other end of the room. Her parents also ran to her in panic but Hilda clung to Relic, trembling. The girl who had showed no fear before vampires was scared to the core by the threat of a gun.
Even the viscount seemed surprised by Watt's course of action. He grew ever more cautious of the man.
[What do you mean by this? What is your purpose? …Have you truly surrendered? Well, I suppose if you have learned your lesson, I could support you wholeheartedly during the next mayoral election.]
"That's pretty damn sweet. City council's full of geezers, but I can't ignore your loyal citizens. I was this close to losing last time because of that."
With a self-deprecating smile, Watt quietly raised the gun.
"Besides, what good's a hostage now?" He said, aiming at the letters of blood and pulling the trigger.
Click. Click. Click.
From the gun came, not bullets, but dull clicking.
Watt opened the cylinder. The bullets fell, each round damp with blood. The red splotches separated from the bullets on the ground and returned to the viscount's main body.
"Quick as ever, Count. Dampening my fucking bullets before I do anything." Watt spat resentfully, throwing the gun itself at the viscount.
[You worry me, mayor. You show a distinct lack of pettiness today, and that worries me greatly.]
"What can I say? I'm feeling pretty good. I feel so good it's almost lethal. It was pretty shitty earlier today, getting ignored by my numbskull underlings and smashing my cell phone. But what happened just earlier cleared that all up. Now that was one hell of a show. Almost applauded. Looks like ol' Melhilm's research wasn't for nothing after all." Watt said, quietly turning towards Relic.
"I mean, I've always been after him, but now I'm serious. Relic von Waldstein, the perfected product. The revival of a legend that never existed. The Relict. The one-man apocalypse."
[I must object to that final descriptor.]
"Shut up. Anyway… I'll apologize 'bout pouring liquid nitrogen into your coffin last month. It was a waste of time and effort, anyway."
The viscount's memory seemed to have been spurred by Watt's comment.
[Of course! So it was you after all! I had thought it strange that I could not move, but by then I had been sealed inside by some sort of rosin…. I would have lost my energy entirely if I had been inside any longer!]
"Cut the complaining. Just be thankful I didn't sink you into the ocean because I didn't want to risk breaking your coffin open. So, what do you say? Any chance of getting your kid to share some of that power with me?"
[Your penchant for making impossible demands has not changed, I see. Ah, finally back to your old petty self.]
As Watt and the viscount went on about apologies and whatnot, the topic of their discussion--Relic--watched in silence.
[And in any event, how in the world would you go about transferring this power? Abilities are not known to be transferrable between vampires, even through biting… Hm? Then what did, pray tell, Melhilm intend for my son? Not a coup d'etat with Relic at its centre, I presume?]
"Let's just say there's a way to copy someone's abilities now. And what would you think if this method transferred the abilities without the weaknesses? A way that would allow anyone in possession of Relic to create a legend."
[Preposterous! What is this]
But the moment the viscount began to ask, an even more surprising visitor entered the ballroom.
Standing with one arm around the railings was a voluptuous young woman of Japanese descent.
"…? Who's that?" Mihail asked Ferret, not a hint of tension in his tone. But she stiffly kept her gaze on the newcomer.
Relic also turned his eyes towards Shizune, but she looked straight at the viscount.
"I think I booked the first appointment with the viscount's son." she said slowly.
Relic and Ferret, who could both understand Japanese, looked at their father in surprise.
Shizune Kijima, the Eater, simply turned towards Relic.
[…Still fearless of misunderstandings, I see. Where have you been all this time, might I ask?] The viscount asked, taken aback. Shizune faced down the vampires and spoke plainly.
"Viscount, I have a full-course meal right in front of my eyes. Are you really going to try and stop me now?"
[A moment, please. I ask that you release yourself from this tension. They say that relaxation is the best medicine for a broken heart, do they not?]
Shizune thought for a moment, then came up with a proposal.
"Right. I owe you from before, too. Then how about this? I sensed four vampires here in this room. I'll settle for eating just one of them. So which will it be? It's your choice, viscount."
The word 'eat' seemed to have surprised Ferret. She turned to the viscount.
"Father, who in the world is this woman?"
There was a tinge of anxiety in her incredulous expression. The viscount attempted to respond reassuringly in bold letters, but only ended up fanning the flames of fear.
[There is nothing to worry about, Ferret. Should that woman set her sights on you, you and Relic must flee this place. Do you understand?]
As though making fun of the sight, Watt adjusted his sunglasses and spoke up.
"Well isn't that interesting, eh? Who's it gonna be, Count?"
"I am a viscount, Watt… Hm? You understand the Japanese language?]
"Rukram's sister cities with Hagane City in Japan. You know I can speak it a little, since I went back and forth even before I became mayor. Then again, unlike you fucking vampires, my brain's wired so it takes me years to learn any of these goddamned languages. But that doesn't matter." Watt shook his head. "I understand. That woman is serious. Gotta be, or else you wouldn't tell your brats to run. But you know, if you only need to sacrifice one… Then you'd pick me, wouldn't you? Interesting. All right, pick me." Watt said confidently, almost daring the viscount to choose. However--
[I refuse!] The viscount uttered finally, and wrote out a short message to Shizune in Japanese.
[Miss Shizune, I ask that you devour me!]
The other vampires were shocked. But the viscount continued writing on the floor confidently, as though his choice was only natural.
[I have just now sworn to accept the good mayor as my guest! As lord over this castle, I bear the responsibility of ensuring the safety of my guest Watt Stalf!]
"Not again, Father…" Ferret mumbled incredulously, but her eyes never left Shizune, who remained standing at the top of the stairs. Something about her bothered Ferret--the incredibly cold atmosphere she wove around herself, for one, but there was something else.
'There's something familiar about that woman…'
"Oh, is that all right?" Shizune asked for confirmation. The viscount did not even respond, leaving his form prone on the floor.
"I'm going to warn you, it's not gonna end with just a bite. It's not gonna end until I've devoured every last bit of you. Are you seriously all right with that? Not scared at all?"
[Naturally, I intend to resist. But if you should wish to challenge me to an official duel, then as per traditional rules of engagement against a woman I shall bury my lower body in the earth before our battle.]
"…Remember I said that I didn't dislike you?" Shizune said, slightly remorseful. But she did not seem to be inclined to change her mind.
As they slowly began to tense, a vulgar burst of laughter interrupted them.
"So the girl in white and the count are planning on going at each other's throats?"
Watt stood from his seat on the stair, joining in on Shizune's game.
"In other words, that leaves Relic for me, right?" He returned to the original topic. The viscount hurriedly composed his thoughts as though trying to solve the situation.
[Wait a moment! I shall have a listen to your story at a later time. I do not believe your powers will be enough to even harm my boy. Is that not why you took Miss Hilda hostage to begin with?]
It was a natural point to make, but Watt shook his head.
His strangely calm smile began to show a hint of something resembling madness. His mouth was twisted into a grin that showed off his fangs.
"I thought I told you, Count."
A moment later, countless shadows formed spread from his body.
"I'm here to crawl to the top!"
Watt's body scattered into dozens of bats, like an explosion of black. As the shadows flitted around the ballroom, the pool of blood splashed in shock.
[My word! I do not recall you being able to use many vampiric abilities, let alone turning yourself into bats! And I do recall… My memories do not lie!]
The viscount's form trembled, as though displaying bewilderment, and formed words in midair as though exploding.
[How could I forget those human-eyed bats? That is Melhilm's ability!]
The moment the viscount displayed his words, written in a font representing his surprise, three forks with strangely thick handles drove themselves into his main body on the floor.
[Urgh! Miss Shizune, I believe I already told you that electricity will]
The letters of blood hovering in midair tried to form new words, but their movements suddenly ceased.
The blood pooled around the three forks began to go rigid. Frost began to form on the surface.
The frost spread incredibly quickly. The viscount struggled to detach a part of his body from the ice, but the frost continued spreading as though unwilling to release the blood into the air.
Several seconds later, the viscount's body froze over in a form that made it look like icicles were growing into the air from it.
"Father!" Ferret cried, and tried to run to the viscount's side. But a table knife suddenly drove itself into the floor right before her foot.
Ferret had been unable to react when Shizune had thrown the knife. By the time she was aware that Shizune had moved, the knife was already driven into the floor.
Ferret ground her teeth and glared at Shizune, who smiled faintly.
"You're gonna get yourself burned if you touch that. Although I doubt I'd even let you get that far."
As the bats chattered mockingly, Shizune changed her tone slightly.
"This time I'll go for that boy beside you."
Shizune glanced at Mihail. A fierce look came over Ferret's face as she stood to shield him.
"Please, do not say anything! Even I cannot understand why I am doing this!"
"How sweet." Shizune mumbled, a soft smile on her lips. It was such a natural grin that anyone who had seen her discussion with the viscount earlier would have found it difficult to believe that she was the same person.
Which one was the true Shizune? The viscount, who had witnessed both of her faces, did not seem to have the strength to say.
The blood that had been forming words in midair had managed to escape being frozen. But they fell powerlessly at a slight distance from the pillars of ice.
He squirmed rather weakly, addressing Shizune.
[…Some sort of liquid nitrogen? But why did you not use this during our first battle?]
"I was waiting for your kids to get here." Shizune answered.
The viscount was slow to form the rest of his questions; proof that his strength grew weak.
[What… are you saying? I do not believe you knew of my children until after our ceasefire.]
It was a question meant for confirmation. But the answer came not from Shizune, but the silhouette forming beside her.
"What, you don't get it, Count? Someone who's lived fucking years--decades--centuries longer than me seriously can't put two and two together?"
The bats gathered at a stop beside Shizune, as Watt Stalf reassembled his body beside her.
He sneered and gave an answer in Shizune's place.
"It means this."
The mayor reached out an arm from behind her and dramatically took her in his embrace.
It was clearly not an act of romance, but possession.
The Eater accepted it with a smile.
The letters of blood reacted simply.
[You knew each other beforehand.]
Laughing like a third-rate villain, Watt began to reveal his plot to the letters of blood.
"Hahah! Ahaha! Hahahahahahahahahahaha! I planned it all, from the very start! This is my trump card. I'm not a goddamned idiot; there's no way my flunkies could've taken you on."
Despite the fact that Watt was essentially treating her like a tool, Shizune did not react.
"Hey, hey, hey. You telling me you seriously had no idea? You thought Shizune coming to this island was a coincidence? You think she took her sweet time listenin' to your fucking legends because she happened to be feeling nice today? You think she ate Melhilm by coincidence?"
[So does this have to do with the fact that you are wielding Melhilm's powers?]
"I told you, there's a way to transfer power between vampires. A vampire drinking another vampire's blood won't work; some sort of rejection on the level of the soul. But you already know that, don't you? Fucking Count. This soul that flows in our blood is fickle. The rejection between vampires happens because the wavelengths of the soul are different. But you know, once those abilities pass through a human, the human's blood acts like an adhesive. The power sticks." Watt went on at length, looking as though he was truly enjoying himself.
"You get it now? Eaters. When you drink the blood of an Eater who's just eaten a vampire's flesh and blood, you gain the vampire's abilities. Melhilm noticed that, you know. That's why he went after your son. To take on Relic's powers and become legendary! And now I'm seeking that power instead. Want me to repeat that? Can you even hear me in the first place, Count?! Last time I froze you, you lasted a couple hours. What about now?!"
The viscount, who drew energy from the sun, was cornered. Not only was his body frozen solid, it was unable to provide energy to the smaller part that made up the letters.
The viscount remained rooted to the spot. Shizune smiled and spoke up, as though supplementing Watt's explanation.
"Oh, right. About that question I ignored earlier… You asked me where I went just now, right? Where do you think I was? I was contacting Watt."
She bowed her head slightly, and put on a somewhat lonely look.
"Sorry. But I honestly enjoyed listening to your stories."
[Are you all right?]
Having been left with very few letters with which to compose sentences, the viscount wrote tersely.
[Was the story you told me a lie?]
"That was all true. And it's also true that I'm living to kill all vampires. And… that's how it still is. I let Watt off the hook because he's only half."
[I see. A relief to hear.]
With a satisfied shake, the viscount's letters reformed into sentences.
[I am glad that I do not have to feel anger at you. And forgive me for doubting you for even a moment!]
Shizune looked at his words without expression. but before she could react, Watt snorted.
"Hah! How the mighty have fallen. Even you could end up suspecting a woman's past, eh, Count?" He said, sounding almost forced. The look of disdain in his eyes shone through his sunglasses.
"Whaddaya think, Count? Humiliated? Angry? Resenting your own weakness? Every. Single. Day. You looked down on me from above. You have no idea how I've looked forward to paying you back. Ah, I shall ask. Though you may call my words third-rate and trite, I shall ask. Feeling disgraced yet, Count?! I hate losing, you know. And I make a point of paying back every last ounce of humiliation I felt!"
[I am a viscount. And allow me to add that, coincidentally, I am also a man much like yourself.] The viscount's remaining pieces began, as though he had regained his power. But at that very moment--
[But I make it a point to p a y b a c k i n t r i p l e]
With that, the letters of blood fell to the floor powerlessly, turning into a small stain.
The pieces of the talkative viscount would no longer move.
"Tch. Talk about an anticlimax." Watt said, dissatisfied, and turned to the people at the other end of the ballroom.
"Well, let's get to work…. Hey, hey. What're you looking at me like that for?" He laughed, fixing his sunglasses. Ferret and Relic were glaring at him.
"It's not like he's dead. He'll be back as soon as you thaw him out. Or are you gonna try using your powers on me, like when you erased the Magic Man? Not likely, form the looks of you. No way you could do something that big again without drinking some blood."
Watt's comment had hit the mark. Relic's look faltered for a moment.
Satisfied at the boy's expression--a mix of fear and rage--Watt opened his arms.
"Man, you've got none of your old man's poker face. I can read you like a book."
And in preparation for getting Shizune to drink Relic's blood, he loudly called for his subordinate.
"Oi, Clown! Take the humans hostage!"
But there was no answer.
"Clown! Hey! You listening?!"
She still did not reply. Only Watt's voice echoed through the ballroom.
"…Where'd that moron get to? I told her to get to the castle by nightfall."
As Watt narrowed his eyes, Shizune quietly spoke up.
"The afterlife… I guess."
As Watt turned, a red object flew by past his eyes.
It fell to the floor--a triangular hat dyed a deep red.
"…What is this. Shizune. Where did you find this thing?" He asked seriously. Shizune only answered as she could.
"That clown was killed by the frozen viscount over there."
Silence. Although it was impossible to see his expression through his sunglasses, Watt was quiet for a few moments. He was not even looking at Shizune.
"Hey, hey. Cut this crap. You're supposed to always turn into fog. How the hell do you die when the sun's not even up?"
His tone was still light, but his eyes were fixed on the hat on the floor.
Shizune smiled slightly and described only the outcome.
"She must've been absorbed into the viscount's bubble without even getting a chance to materialize. I guess that's similar to drinking blood, in a sense."
"…Hold it. I told you to cut the crap. I did not tell her to pick a fight with the viscount."
Watt's voice began to quicken. But in contrast to his growing unease, Shizune remained inscrutable.
"I said… cut the crap. This is not funny."
Watt cut off there for a moment, before turning all the way around towards the pillars of ice at the foot of the stairs.
"…Listen up! The Count would not--! …Gah… Urgh…"
His furious remark was cut off. Watt's eyes, hidden beneath his shades, widened in shock.
Ferret and the others happened to be facing his back head-on as he turned. And from the middle of his back--to be precise, at a spot just over his heart--something silver and red came jutting through.
It was a steak knife. With superhuman strength Shizune had forcibly driven that weapon--by no means sharp--into Watt's chest.
She pushed the knife in deep, until it pierced through and came out through his back.
"This isn't stainless steel. It's custom-made, made of pure silver. I don't have many of them, so I only use it to land the finishing blow. It's no wooden stake, so it might hurt. I'm sorry."
"You… bitch…" Watt spat hoarsely.
Blood dripped from his chest. It flowed along the grip of the knife and onto Shizune's hands.
Taking her hands off the knife, Shizune looked at the blood on her hands.
"You've surpassed your half-blood nature and become a full-fledged vampire. That already makes you my enemy."
The man who taught me about Eaters.
Strangely enough, he'd asked me the same question as Gerhardt did today.
"Kid, if the one who killed your family today was human, would you go on and kill every human in existence?"
"…I would." I said. I was completely honest back then. I had no suspicions about anything.
"…I like you, kid." He said, and told me about Eaters.
Then, he tore off his flesh and let me drink his blood.
Now that I think about it, that was so long ago we didn't even have this plan in the first place.
Half man and half vampire.
Normally someone like him would have been cast out from both worlds. Or he would have hidden in one or the other.
But Watt tried to become great in both worlds.
Not for something like justice or goodwill. It was all for his own ambition.
For someone who never sucks up to his superiors, he uses their influence to wield power. In one sense, he's the lowest of all humans and vampires.
But by then, I'd already come to a realization about myself as an Eater. Because I realized that I was neither human nor vampire. Revenge was just an excuse. I realized that I enjoyed watching vampires fall to despair as they died. Watt's actions back then almost made me feel refreshed.
I used him, and he used me.
He would tell me where I could find powerful vampires, one by one. He was probably prioritizing the ones that posed the greatest threat to himself.
But that didn't matter. Watt and I had a purely utilitarian, symbiotic relationship.
After I ate the vampire named Melhilm, Watt drank my blood. He didn't bite me, but I cut my hand and let him drink it. So he received Melhilm's power and became a true vampire.
And now, I've stuck a knife through his heart. Because he's a vampire, a creature I have to destroy.
It was a professional relationship, but it's true we had a bond of trust.
That was why I decided to tell him.
As he fell to the floor before my eyes, I would say it.
It was not an insult. This was my duty, and courtesy to those I devour.
"Watt--Watt Stalf. Thank you for the meal."
Watt lay on the floor, unmoving. Shizune muttered to herself blankly.
"…Too bad. I think that clown girl actually noticed I was targeting you."
Blood was splattered all over her white jacket in a strange pattern. Shizune looked into empty space for a moment, then turned to Relic and Ferret as if she had remembered something.
"Looks like you're next. So… thinking of resisting?"
Her face was the picture of calm, but there was something clearly inhuman about the way Shizune carried herself.
Ferret did not know very much about this Eater, but her father's order to run and the fork sticking out of the ground near her feet was enough to inform her of the danger Shizune posed.
But she desperately swallowed the welling fear and feigned composure as best she could.
"Striking him as he mourned his fallen friend--an excellent tactic."
Hatred was clear in Ferret's voice, but Shizune's expression did not change.
"That's right. But it's not like I've never done this before. Wouldn't it be stranger for me to suddenly feel guilty about it?" She said, staring at Ferret with a nostalgic look. "It's only been a month, but you've lost all that bloodlust from last time. It must be because of that boy beside you, right?"
Ferret's eyes widened as she looked directly at Shizune.
'So I have seen her before. But a month ago? Then-'
"You were watching me from the shadows like you could kill me any second. You know, that really puts a damper on things--under scrutiny like that, you can't even get a vampire to drink your blood, let alone kiss you."
'…! I remember! I met her with Relic. I'm sure of it! One month ago in Yokohama… She was wearing glasses and her hair was down, but it was this woman!'
But by the time Ferret came to this realization and made to speak, Shizune was already passing by her.
Only a moment ago, there were several metres between them. That meant Shizune had traversed that distance and more in the second it took for Ferret to remember her face.
Mihail, standing beside Ferret, made an apt observation.
"I… I saw her afterimage just now."
And the fact that she had passed them by could only mean--
By the time Ferret let out a scream, Shizune was grabbing Relic's chin.
Hilda, who had been clinging to Relic, was pushed aside towards her parents. Shizune held a table knife in her left hand, aimed at Hilda and her parents so she could attack them at any given moment.
"…You understand, right? Try anything funny, and…"
"…Yeah." Relic replied without resisting, looking like he had come to a resolution.
His expression prompted Hilda to try and rush towards Shizune, but her parents held her back.
"Stop! Let go, let go of me, dad! No! Please, no! Relic! Relic!"
"It's all right. I'll be fine." Relic said, smiling to reassure Hilda. Shizune bowed her head awkwardly.
"Remember when we met in Yokohama? When I approached you on Watt's orders? Back then, you reminded me so much of my brother I couldn't stand it. He would have been just about your age if he were still alive. That's why I gave up on hunting you. For a vampire, you looked too innocent. You didn't look like one of those monsters."
She smiled sadly, then withdrew it again.
"But today you showed me power. right before my eyes. I saw the monstrous power of Relic von Waldstein. I'd never seen anything like it."
The range of emotions in her eyes diminished rapidly, being replaced by childlike curiosity. It was as though they were being overridden by her desire for Relic's power and flavour.
"It's all right. Just let me drink your blood, and I'll let your sister live for now. And I still have my promise with the viscount, too."
With a wry grin, Shizune repeated what Relic said to her that day one month ago, after talking about his family.
"Don't worry. I'll be gentle."
A second later, there was a flash of silver by Relic's neck. His throat was torn. Blood began spewing out.
Hilda and Ferret screamed, but the knife Shizune was holding would not let them approach. Even the look in Relic's eyes and the gestures he was trying to make with his hands was trying to keep them away.
Shizune sucked the blood from his neck like a vampire. It was a fearful sight that almost had an air of sensuality. And it looked as though no one could stop Shizune now.
But at that very moment, they were rescued by an unexpected group of heroes.
Suddenly, a door leading in from a room on the first floor opened. A group of what looked to be tourists crowded into the ballroom.
The roughened man at the head of the group wore an army jacket.
He glanced over at the second level of the ballroom.
"Wait… wait a sec."
The people who had walked in on the situation was Cargilla and the other exterminators, who had been hired to kill the viscount.
Seeing the strange spectacle before him, Shizune at the centre of it all, he vacantly spoke up.
"What the hell's going on here?"
Shizune slowly drew her face back from Relic, and wiped the blood from her mouth with her sleeve.
Relic's bleeding had already stopped. It did not seem like he had been badly hurt.
Turning her eyes from him for a moment, Shizune looked down at Cargilla and the others with a bored expression.
"…You're finally awake. You know, the civilian couple here regained consciousness earlier than you."
The exterminators looked at one another, their complexions much healthier than when the jester was controlling them. As none of them could speak Japanese, they had no idea what Shizune was saying to them.
Shizune chose her words carefully, explaining in what little English she knew.
"I'm exterminating a vampire."
"Hey, hey. You sayin' that kid's a vampire? And what's with these red icicles?"
As the exterminators looked at Shizune dubiously, they climbed up to the second level one by one.
"…? What? Don't bother me."
Something was going wrong. Why were they all armed, and why were they ignoring Ferret and the others, coming straight for her?
But from their complexion they did not seem to be under any vampire's control, Shizune thought. But this conclusion was mistaken, to her detriment.
"Well, we just couldn't leave you, Missy."
"See, we're still being controlled. Hahaha!"
At that very moment, every single exterminator spewed blood from their mouths.
At the same time, the viscount'f fading presence again filled the ballroom.
The blood that had burst from the exterminators billowed upwards like smoke, creating very clear letters of blood before the shocked Shizune.
[Let us not be too hasty, Miss Shizune. Now, let us deal with matters as gentlemen once more!]
'How did this happen?!'
Shizune glanced over at the first level without even thinking. The frozen lump of blood was still where it was before, reaching into the air.
[Ah, a true gentleman never forgets to keep his weapons in reserve!]
[Ah, well, to be frank, I was somewhat bothered by something earlier. When you asked to meet my children, you specifically asked for my son and daughter the second time. Why, I had never specified that they were brother and sister, so how could you know such a thing in the first place, I wondered!]
Shizune shook her head, acknowledging her mistake.
"I did regret putting it that way a second later…." She began, but trailed off. Her breathing felt strange. It as as though something other than air was filling in her lungs--something terribly dangerous--
The collapse began.
Her breathing became laboured as something wrenched at her lungs, like they were filling with water. She was literally on the verge of drowning, though she was standing in a ballroom in a castle on the mountains.
The discomfort gave way to pain, and the more she tried to breathe the further she fell closer to death.
Shizune desperately bent her body forward and struck her own ribcage. With a loud cough, she spat out red fluid.
"Hah… ah… You… you can do something like this, too?" Shizune glared at the viscount, who tilted his form sideways as though he was playing dumb.
[Ah, though it is certainly within my power to do so, I'm afraid that is not part of my body.]
Shizune frowned. The red liquid she had spewed out suddenly grew hazy, then melted into the air.
When she turned around, she came face-to-face with a light patch of fog. She suddenly sensed the presence of another vampire.
At that moment, she was enveloped by a colourful fog.
The fog was the same colour as the jester's costume.
Before Shizune could put two and two together, the fog began to gather at her mouth.
Realizing what was happening, Shizune hurriedly turned her gaze to Watt's collapsed form. The triangular hat she had tossed to the floor had disappeared.
Seeing the exterminators, their pale complexions restored, Shizune figured out the identity of the being enveloping her.
She backed off, getting away from the fog, and yelled at the viscount.
"I thought you said you killed her!"
The viscount's body shook as he answered Shizune in unnecessarily bold font.
[I do not recall claiming to have ever killed the girl dressed as a clown.]
The ballroom was filled with the jester's fog.
The air itself, filled with a light haze, was filled with silent fury at Shizune.
The jester was not the only one filling the hall now.
The viscount spread his body over the floor and the walls, spreading himself through the ballroom at incredible speeds. Red spouts of blood traveled from wall to wall, covering the room like a giant net.
The ballroom was tinted red now, as though the blood had been put up there from the very beginning as ornamentation. Even a freezing fork like Shizune had thrown earlier would do little to harm the viscount now.
As the fog spread through the ballroom, Shizune began to sense the viscount and the jester from every direction around her. She was now open to surprise attacks.
Realizing that the tides were turning, Shizune turned in order to take Relic hostage.
He was indeed a powerful vampire, but he was still possessed of many weaknesses. If Shizune could use his immaturity to her advantage, she could easily use him as a bargaining chip, she thought.
But Cargilla and the others, under the jester's control, stepped between her and Relic one by one.
Shizune ruthlessly threw aside the exterminators, without using any weapons. She did not consider them allies--only unfortunate pawns who happened to get wrapped up in Watt's peculiar hobby. They had looked down upon her for being an Eater, without realizing their own hypocrisy. And since Shizune had no interest in them to begin with, she did not even try to remember their names, much less their faces.
And so she was caught off guard.
She could never have known the fact that the exterminators, minus Val the newbie, had been joined by one more person.
Shizune kicked and shoved the exterminators aside. There was only one person left standing between her and Relic.
She swung out her arm at superhuman speed, aiming to strike the man in the neck.
But the man suddenly crossed his arms before his face, parrying Shizune's attack.
Though he was almost too late, the man had withstood Shizune's superhuman strength. Shizune then sensed a vampiric presence from the man. But he was not a human being under control--he himself was a vampire.
The fog and the blood filling the room had dulled her senses, preventing her from sensing the vampire until it was too late.
She hurriedly swung up her other arm and made to drive a knife into the man's heart.
"One, two, three."
With these quiet words, the man's vampiric presence ballooned exponentially. At the same time, white bats began flying out of his mouth, ramming themselves into Shizune's face.
Pain shot up from her left arm.
Shizune's hand, clutching the knife, was caught in a set of wolf teeth that had emerged from the man's chest.
Shizune grimaced. The man laughed.
"It worked! This was the first time I combined transformation with magic tricks, you see." The bespectacled man said in perfect Japanese. Putting pressure into the jaws he had transformed part of his body into, he tore off Shizune's left hand with ease.
Most people would have screamed, but Shizune held back that urge with determination alone. Watching her curiously, the Magic Man excitedly got into character.
"Oh, hello there! I've heard so much about you, but this is the first time we meet face-to-face. You really are quite powerful. I never would have been able to beat you without causing a little distraction."
'What's going on?!'
Shizune was lost in confusion. She had hunted vampires for years now, but nothing like this had ever happened before.
She had in the past devoured countless enemies, much more powerful than this man, the viscount, and the fog she assumed to be the jester.
Too many things were taking her by surprise.
Until now, she based her strategies on Watt's information when fighting vampires. She had built up experience through countless battles she had anticipated to a certain extent, but she did not have the skills to craft strategies on the fly.
'Why is this happening? I just drank Relic's blood; I should be moving much faster. I should be able to fight off those teeth easily!
She realized that her powers were not greatly enhanced after drinking Relic's blood. Relic, a vampire with power enough to synchronize with an entire island.
Bracing herself, Shizune forcibly pulled back her arm from the Magic Man.
"Oh, that's not good!" The Magic Man cried, but Shizune drew back her right arm in a single try.
Her flesh tore between the wolf teeth with a revolting noise.
Even still, she ran as fast as she could for a spot where the fog was still lightest. She could feel warm blood dripping from her left arm, but she had to get away.
The fog was lightest in the vicinity of Watt's corpse, so she would catch her breath there--
That was when she came to a realization.
'Watt's… corpse? A vampire's corpse? Wouldn't he have turned to ash? Is it because he's a dhampyr, or…!'
Her mind was not as quick as her body.
By the time she sensed a faint presence from the fallen Watt, it was too late. She was already up close to him.
Watt's presence surged rapidly.
There was an impact.
Shizune's body came to a very sudden stop, as though she had hit an invisible wall.
Watt had gotten up without warning, springing forward like a jack-in-the-box.
His hand had driven itself into her stomach. Watt himself hadn't moved, but Shizune had been moving so fast that she had essentially rammed herself into his attack.
"…That hurt, you bitch…" Watt spat.
With that, he opened his hand inside Shizune's stomach and grasped her internal organs.
Shizune fell limply to the floor, coughing up blood and unable to even scream.
'How…? I know I stabbed through his heart…'
As her consciousness faded, she realized that a dark shadow was darting towards Watt.
It was a large bat with human eyes that had been hanging from the ceiling. Diving down towards Watt's chest, it disappeared into the hole she had created earlier.
It was a bizarre sight, but Shizune now understood what had happened.
"Shit, and I was saving this trick for the count, too." Watt sighed. Shizune glared at him, her eyes trembling in shock.
'…He separated just his heart?! Impossible! Not even Melhilm-'
The moment before she lost consciousness, Shizune heard him answer her unspoken question.
"…'Cause I'm half human. Didn't you know, Eater? With enough effort, humans can evolve infinitely."
Watt picked up his sunglasses off the floor, put them on, and quietly surveyed his surroundings.
[Allow me to say, I believe you have mixed up the definitions of 'growth' and 'evolution'.]
The letters of blood floated up to him before he even asked. It was very difficult to read properly because of the red stains all over the walls.
[Evolution is not growth, nor is the reverse true. How could you fail to make such a simple distinction?]
"'Cause I'm an idiot." Watt replied half-heartedly.
[Certainly not. How could you not understand? You have not evolved--you are growing of your own strength. Step by step. Little by little. Slowly but surely.]
Watt laughed mockingly.
"You tryin' to lecture me like some know-it-all old man again?"
[Not at all. I am merely happy to see someone I've known for years as he matures. Whether physically or mentally.]
"That's what I mean by 'know-it-all old man'."
Watt brought his bloodied hand up to his lips and slowly licked off the blood--Shizune's blood, the blood that should have received Relic's power.
If what he said earlier was true, he would now have Relic's power at his disposal.
Ferret gasped without thinking, but the viscount did not so much as twitch.
Each individual, holding their own thoughts and hypotheses, watched as time passed.
Watt stood still for a moment, observing the effects of the blood.
"…I knew it." He said, gritting his teeth and nodding at Relic.
"You're not Relic, are you?"
[Correct. You are no fool, Watt. In fact, I would go so far as to claim that you are an intelligent man!]
"What's so good about being complimented by an idiot like you, huh?"
Watt shook his head weakly and continued, looking like he had figured out everything.
The being that had been in Relic's form until now began to change. He transformed into the newbie exterminator and greeted Watt. Everyone but Watt and the viscount was taken by surprise--Hilda and Ferret found themselves gaping in astonishment.
"Then the real Relic must have been watching everything from the shadows all this time. After house-training that Magic Man instead of killing him." Watt spat, but the Magic Man had disappeared. It seemed he had escaped the ballroom as soon as he confirmed that Watt was conscious again.
"Oi. Clown." Watt said, looking at no direction in particular. But there was no response.
"Come on out. I'm not mad at you."
Still no response. He waited for a few moments, but finally relented and flashed his fangs at the viscount with a bitter grin.
"Never mind. So, let's continue this, Count."
[…If only you would pour this much passion into improving our city's industry…]
"Shaddap. I feel like shit. Hah, so this is what you mean by paying me back in triple? And here I was, thinking Shizune was the only traitor working for me. And now it turns out there's three times as many backstabbers around me."
Watt's voice had become surprisingly cold after his revival.
"Don't you ever get tired of this, Count? Spoiling my plans left and right? You're always one step ahead of me. Even now. You turned three of my flunkies against me, and I bet you already knew Shizune was going to betray me when you set up this trap, didn't you? So what, you sayin' you're omniscient or something?"
He took a step forward.
"But listen up, Count. Who the fuck do you think you are? Look at yourself. You lost your chance at death, your human form, and you still call yourself a gentleman? Is it some policy of yours to live, even if it means paying with your dignity?"
The viscount was unfazed by Watt's provocation.
[I am indeed a coward, make no mistake. But I have no need for unwarranted power. As long as I have what it takes to protect those dear to me, I shall be satisfied. As you said, I have abandoned both human form and my body as a vampire. But this is the result of my own choices and actions. I have no regrets.]
"Sounds like you're bluffing to me."
Watt shook his head. There was an air of bloodlust gathering around him.
"Then try me. Unlike you, I still haven't given up on power. So just try and protect your loved ones. You think that body of yours, without bones or meat, can stop me from getting to them?!"
Watt began raising his voice, his eyes glinting. But physically, he was less than whole. Blood was still flowing from his knife wound.
[I ask that you stop this. Your heart may be unscathed, but as you have been stabbed through the chest with silver, you must have been badly injured--both as a human and as a vampire.] The viscount said worriedly, but Watt angrily knocked him away. The letters scattered for a moment, then reformed.
Not even concerned with his wound, Watt sighed anxiously.
"…You won't even let me finish things properly?"
Sensing the hostility in Watt, the viscount paused.
[…Make no mistake, I can see your sincere resolve and determination. But it is true that all good battles come to an end in the blink of an eye.]
"Enough of your cheek, Count!"
[Then if you will allow me.]
Watt laughed loudly at the viscount's response. It was clear from his expression that he would pour everything he had into the duel.
"Hah… That's more like it--ARGH!"
As soon as the duel was scheduled, it was over.
A part of the viscount's net-like body had twisted onto Watt's leg.
But for some reason, it was enough to send Watt flying. He began trembling where he lay, as though he had been electrocuted.
Or, to be specific, that was exactly what had happened to him.
The other end of the stream of blood that was curled around him was plugged into an electrical socket for the chandelier.
[I am resistant to electricity, as I had explained to Miss Shizune many times.] The viscount said apologetically. But Watt had no time or effort to spare for reading.
Desperately swallowing a scream, he struggled to suppress the shock running through his body. The electricity flowed through him with his blood as a conduit.
It must have been a powerful blow to Watt, who had already been weakened, but he stood his ground and glared back at the viscount with a demonic look.
The viscount, having remembered something, sent part of his body down the stairs.
His target was the two metre-tall pillars of ice standing in the middle of the ballroom. He twisted himself around his own frozen body.
Transferring energy from the webs he had spun around the ballroom into the icicles, he tried to move his frozen body.
Just as the fresh stream of blood he had extended was beginning to freeze over, a 30-centimetre long piece of the icicle broke off cleanly with a metallic noise.
The tip of the icicle was frozen at a point. It looked almost like a bloodstained wooden stake that had been used to kill many vampires in the past.
Controlling the icicle as though operating a remote-controlled toy, he levitated it before Watt, who was still struggling to fight the electric current. The viscount's body, separated from the fork that had turned him into ice, would no longer be affected by the fork.
The sharpened tip was pointing directly at Watt's heart. It floated before him, as though announcing an execution.
Although Watt could see all of this happening in the midst of his pain, he could not transform any part of himself into bats because of the pain.
And yet he refused to fall. He did not try to run. If he fell now, the viscount would not go so far as to strike him. Even so, Watt would not go down--because he knew that about the viscount.
Without a word, the viscount launched the frozen part of his body at Watt's heart.
Watt raised a leg to kick away the projectile, but the electric current would not let him move as he wished. The icicle narrowly missed his foot and continued on to his chest.
The glinting red icicle flew towards him--
And stopped in place a hair's breadth from his chest.
[Checkmate.] The viscount announced, pulling back the icicle.
At the same time, he unplugged himself from the outlet, releasing Watt from the electric shock.
Watt knelt against the railings, breathing heavily. He glared at the viscount. He had no choice but to take a moment to catch his breath, but once he had regained some of his strength, he cried at the viscount with an even more terrifying look.
"'Checkmate'? Quit fucking around!"
[I shall spare your life, so I ask that you later apologize to those who were involved in this incident.]
The letters collapsed. The splotches of blood in the ballroom trembled, then returned to one point. The walls, regaining their white coat of paint, looked as though they were speaking for the viscount's desire to end things now.
But Watt's anger grew even fiercer.
"You… you think that's it?! You think that's enough to make me give up?! Something this fucking insignificant?! And not just me. You think those bastards over there are gonna stand for you letting me off the hook?!"
[That is why I asked that you apologize to them. Please, pay attention to what people write.]
Watt ignored the viscount and shouted, baring his fangs.
"Yeah, that's how you always were, Count! Always acting so high-and-mighty, deciding how things end on your terms! But don't think thing'll always go your way!"
Whipping aside his sunglasses, Watt glared at the viscount with his eyes no longer hidden.
"So that's it. The villain begs for mercy, and shoots the hero in the back when he turns around! But our oh-so-great hero never lets himself get shot. Which means he never trusted the villain in the first place. That's the kind of bastard I hate the most! The villains, too. If you know you can't beat him, don't fucking fight him in the first place!"
Watt stumbled as he got to his feet.
"But I'm different. I'd never beg for my life! I did this because I knew I could win. Small fry like me has to turn the situation to my favour before doing anything! And if I still lose, that just means I'm a fucking idiot! I don't regret anything!" He roared angrily, but his eyes were honest and full of resolve.
"That's why… Let me tell you, Count! That's right. The moment you turn your back on me, I will shoot you. I'll tell you before any hero tries to forgive me! I'll say it from the very start! So are you still going to turn your back on me?! Are you still going to forgive me?!"
For a time, the only sound echoing through the hall was Watt's ragged breathing.
[I knew you would say that, O most noble of petty villains.]
The viscount again laid out words of blood in the air.
[You are indeed a petty villain, but you would never beg for your life or stoop to licking another's shoes. In that sense, I would go so far as to say that I respect this about you.]
The viscount then took aim with the icicle.
[Well, now. In order to show you my deepest respects, I shall grant unto you a defeat most conclusive!]
With that, he again launched the icicle. It sped towards Watt even faster than before, like a red bullet--a red stake poised to pierce Watt's heart.
Watt tried to raise his leg to kick it aside, but the effects of the electric shock left him unable to do little more than stand.
Realizing this, he shut his eyes for a moment. He then opened them with determination.
Glaring at the approaching stake, he chuckled self-deprecatingly, waiting for the end.
At that moment, a patch of fog appeared.
A girl was standing before him--a still-childlike girl wearing clownish makeup.
Her shoulders were trembling, but she had materialized fully--and she was holding the tip of the icicle.
The icicle had stopped just short of reaching her chest.
Confirming that it had indeed come to a stop, the jester began to angrily yell at the viscount.
"Viscount, you promised! You said you'd save Master Watt if I did what you told me to! You said you wouldn't kill him! You said you wouldn't get rid of him! That's enough now, right? This is enough! So please! Please don't kill Master Watt!"
Watt was stunned into silence.
[What do you say, Watt? Is this not a most conclusive defeat?] The viscount said. He then added:
[Allow me to ask the self-proclaimed villain, then. Would you shoot the hero, even if it meant shooting through the poor clown? A true hero would not go easy on such a villain in the first place. After all, if she had died as a result of my misjudgement, would that not disqualify me from hero status? …Although I must admit that I am still quite fearful of the possibility that you will bring the girl to harm for this later.]
Watt did not even finish reading--instead, he went and lifted Shizune onto his shoulder.
[Hm? What do you intend to do with her?]
"What do you care? …Even an Eater won't survive without medical treatment."
[I intended to provide treatment for her myself, but if you are volunteering for the role…]
Watt thought for a moment, and laughed.
It was a vulgar laughter that would not have been out of place before a third-rate villain. Narrowing his eyes under his sunglasses, he slowly came back to himself.
"Oi, Count. I bet you thought I was betrayed, right? You thought she used me to her heart's content and backstabbed me as soon as she got the chance, right?"
Standing up straight, with the bloodied girl on his shoulder, he laughed as though he was challenging the entire world.
"As if, you idiot! I'm the one who used her! I knew it all from the start! Of course I knew everything! Everything, even the fact that she was trying to kill me!"
[Even the fact that I would spare the young clown?]
Watt's face twisted into a smile.
"I trust you, Count."
Without even looking back, he left through the ballroom doors.
"You wouldn't kill a kid. You would never."
The viscount sent him off, writing out words that Watt could not possibly see.
[I am a viscount, young mayor.]
Continued in the Epilogue.
Continued in the Epilogue.